“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If any one destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:16-17).
“You are God’s temple.” “God’s temple is holy, and that temple you are.” Can you fathom the depths of these statements? Think back to the temple of the Old Testament. First to the ‘moveable temple’, the tabernacle, in Exodus 25ff.; then read 1 Kings 6ff. The temple was constructed of the finest materials. It was adorned with the most beautiful wood carvings. As a matter of fact, the inner sanctuary was entirely overlaid with gold. The furnishings were the finest. There was a place—the Holy Place—where only the priest went, and only once a year. The whole of the space was sanctified, holy. Yet even in this holy space, there was a most holy space. All of it was guarded as the house of God, set apart for holy use, and some was set apart all the more.
This is the case with us now. By the Holy Spirit at baptism, we ourselves are the very temple of God—set apart, made holy. We are crafted of the finest materials. So finely crafted that no one on earth has nor ever will be able to duplicate it ex nihilo (out of nothing), as God did. We are created in God’s image and likeness, to be in communion with Him, and to show His love to those who do not know him.
In this particular passage, St. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians about being the temple most specifically because of their sexual immorality. (See especially 1 Cor. 5 where a man is sleeping with his step-mother.) The whole of Corinth, even among the Christians was riddled with sexual sin. But Paul’s exhortations are not out of some puritanical prudery (‘Gross, sex is bad!’) or simple moralism (‘Sex is wrong.’) Rather, St. Paul urges us to see that our very bodies are the holiest place! Not made with brick, mortar, cedar, carved wood and then gilded like the OT temple, but rather fashioned of skin and bones, life-filled by the very breath of God and created for His holy purpose. Sexual immorality of any sort (that is, sexual activity outside the bounds of 1 man, 1 woman in holy matrimony) is precisely an abandonment of God and His purposes! More specifically, any immorality is, in fact, taking a harlot in place of God.
This is the case not simply with sexual sin, but with all sin. If we are the Temple of God, then we must ask not just the question “Who is entering my body?” but “What is entering my body?” Gluttony or eating unhealthily is making food my God. TV, music, movies and other entertainment which draw us away from God defile this temple as well. Our call is to holiness and communion with God, and all that leads us away from such holiness and communion not only ‘destroys’ this temple, our body, but also jeopardizes our salvation precisely by our choosing another god than the Holy Trinity.